It is still remarkable to consider that a pitcher for a Major League Baseball team could go from Opening Day starter to struggling in AA in one season, but that's exactly what John Lannan has done in the course of 4 short months.
Manager Jim Riggleman listed John Lannan, Matt Chico, and Ross Detwiler as possible starters in place of Luis Atilano this Sunday after he was placed on the DL with bone chips in his elbow. Lannan started on Thursday in Harrisburg, so that basically eliminates a Sunday start for him. However, even if it wouldn't be short rest, Lannan hasn't made a case for himself since he left DC.
When Lannan was sent down, he showed no signs of being a top of the rotation starter. His ERA was 5.76, he had walked 35 batters in just 14 starts. Considering in his last two seasons, his ERA was below 4.00, something was obviously wrong. At first, the Nats thought he was hurt. He missed a start, came back, and nothing. So the organization did the unthinkable. They demoted their Opening Day starter. (Aside: The Nats starting rotation on Opening Day included Lannan, Mock, Stammen, and Marquis. Of those 4, none of them have spent the entire season in the majors, and Stammen is the only one in the rotation today. And that's probably temporary.)
But since Lannan trekked up Route 15 to Harrisburg, PA, there hasn't been much improvement. His ERA is down to 4.29, but he's facing merely adequate major league talent. He is 1-3, and while you can't learn everything by wins and losses, in his most recent outing, Lannan gave up 4 runs on 9 hits in just 5 innings. In Lannan's last start on July 17th, he went just 4 2/3 innings and gave up 4 runs (1 earned) on 5 hits.
So while Lannan tries to figure it out in Double-A, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmerman are getting closer to MLB-ready. Strasburg has solidified himself as the Nats ace for years to come (Please don't be like Mark Prior, Please don't be like Mark Prior...). Livan has shown that he can still be a middle to bottom of the rotation innings eater. Scott Olsen and Jason Marquis could both be on their way back to the rotation soon. So all of a sudden, even with Strasburg being shut down in a few weeks, it looks like there may be no room for the Nats 2010 Opening Day starter on the expanded September roster.
It is a meteoric decline by a guy that many considered a 3rd or 4th spot starter (after Strasburg and Zimmermann) for many years to come. Lannan is an upstanding player, one that works tirelessly to be a better pitcher and an off-the-field presence in the community. I speak for many when I say I hope that he can figure it out and have a comeback very soon.
Capitol Baseball will continue to update all ye dedicated readers on Lannan's progress.